Bears, Bucks and Boat Launch on NRB Agenda

Passion and politics could clash when Wisconsin’s seven-citizen state Natural Resources Board (NRB) meets in Madison next week for its first monthly meeting of 2020.

DNR staff will take a look at a 2019 deer hunt that saw numbers fall about 14 percent statewide to just more than 288,000 whitetails – the first sub-300,000 deer harvest since 1993.

The latest possible gun deer opener played a role, as did the wettest year in state history. All the rain made some marshes and swamps inaccessible to hunters, and it left more than a million acres of corn still standing during the gun hunt.

However, some also believe that a big drop in gun deer hunters is hurting the management effort. A number of solutions are being discussed, from season date changes for various methods (bow, crossbow and firearm) to a quiet period prior to the gun opener. 

NRB chair Frederick Prehn said he’d like to see two quiet days before opening day. I’d take his two-day quiet period and raise it by three: a full Monday to Friday prior, with no bow or crossbow deer hunting at a minimum. 

It used to be that way until individuals and bow-lobby groups cried foul about losing four days of buck-hunting opportunities during Zone T October antlerless hunts. When those were eliminated by legislation, not only did the bow lobby fight to keep the extra four days, but it also asked for – and got – the ability to bow hunt the Friday before and even right through all of the firearm deer hunts.

I’d also like to see the nine-day hunt require in-person registration and deer tagging again. The DNR got a ton of free publicity from all the media coverage, as well as vital data collection.

All the rule changes that followed the Deer Trustee report were supposed to put the fun back into hunting. The loss of traditions may have done the opposite.

Giving out free tags like candy is also counterproductive. Most hunters will shoot only one or two antlerless, but because so many tags are given out – 10 in Door County and eight in Kewaunee County if you hunted with both firearm and bow or crossbow last season – many others refuse to shoot does because of an inaccurate perception that everyone is slaughtering them.

We used to have the best system in the country for at least knowing a minimum of how many deer died. We now really have no clue. 

I’d suggest a three-year trial period of starting the bow and crossbow seasons two weeks later (putting more emphasis on small game in September), then stop them completely a week prior to the gun opener – and no using bow or crossbow tags during firearm seasons.

If you’re reading this early (late Thursday or early Friday), there’s still time to submit written comments or register to testify in person in Madison or remotely from the Green Bay DNR office at Meetings are webcast live.  

Bear Quota Dropping

The NRB will hear recommendations to stabilize the bear population in Zones A, B and C, and slightly increase the bear population in Zone D.

The DNR is recommending a 2020 quota of 3,550 bears, down from a 2019 quota of 3,835. (The actual harvest was 3,679.) 

Based on the most recent four-year average success rate for each zone, the department is recommending that 11,380 permits be awarded. Although that’s just 215 fewer than last year, there are significant drops in high-success Zones A (180 fewer), B (155 fewer) and D (140 fewer). 

New Boat Launch

The NRB will be asked to approve a DNR proposal to award $620,000 to Brown County to purchase 4.54 acres of land within the City of Green Bay for a harbor of refuge, boat launch and green space with direct access to lower Green Bay waters. The property includes the former Eagle’s Nest Supper Club and a 1.22-acre breakwater. It is accessed directly from County A/Nicolet Drive. 

Although the highlight of the project is increased access, the plan would also showcase modern park design and green infrastructure in conjunction with uses such as shore fishing, bird watching and community garden space. 

Bay Waters Freezing

Colder nights have the waters of Green Bay making ice after a mild start to the new year. Most anglers are using portable shanties only and walking out. Exercise extreme caution, even on four-wheelers and snowmobiles, because thickness can vary from six to eight inches in some areas to just two or three in others, and open water around reefs, pressure cracks and shipping lanes is not out of the question.

Lake-Levels Update

As of Jan. 10, Lake Michigan was three inches higher than the record January average set in 1987, and 17 inches above last year at this time.

Water levels were 66 inches above the all-time January low, set in 2013.

Free Fishing Jan. 18-19

No fishing licenses or stamps are needed for Wisconsin’s annual free fishing weekend Jan. 18-19. All other regulations apply. 

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